Romanian film: A new wave

The Romanian new wave takes on life and death with dark humor in "California Dreamin'" Photo via
The Romanian new wave takes on life and death with dark humor in “California Dreamin'”. Image via

This Friday, Fresno Filmworks is pleased to present the Romanian comedy “The Treasure”. Acclaimed director Corneliu Porumboiu brings this hunt for buried treasure alive with the trademark bite and humor that has gained him international acclaim as one of Romanian film’s brightest stars.

Romanian cinema has a long and rich history beginning in the early 20th century with silent pictures and evolving into a complex artistic tradition. The latest generation of talented filmmakers from Romania have been credited with creating their own new wave film movement. Known for their natural, minimalist style and dark humor these films have taken on Romanian history, government, and culture with a unique vision. The Treasure is just one of the latest films of the Romanian new wave to receive critical praise.

“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”

An astute criticism of the Romanian health care system and the ethics and morals of caring for the dying, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” follows the last night in the life of an isolated Bucharest resident. After suffering a headache Mr. Lazarescu calls for an ambulance. The initial examination reveals the severity of Mr. Lazarescu’s health problems, however a solution is not as forthcoming. One nurse suspects cancer and recommends an operation, but the cranky, lonely, drunk Mr. Lazarescu is labeled a low priority and sent to another hospital, and then another, and another. At each stop a new justification is given for ignoring the dying man, leaving the ambulance driver as his only advocate. “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” has been praised for diving to the deepest depths of dark comedy to show a man dying in equal parts, of disease and indifference.

“California Dreamin’”

In “California Dreamin’” director Cristian Nemescu also takes on the power a bureaucracy can wield over life and death. This time an army and a small town government collide during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia. A train carrying American radar equipment necessary to the NATO mission in Kosovo, is derailed in a small Romanian village due to missing customs papers. The fact that the train and its cargo have been cleared for passage by the Romanian Prime Minister, does not deter the local authorities from their insistence on the correct paper work. Meanwhile, the US army becomes trapped in the small town while responsibility for the misunderstanding is passed from one government agency to another. “Much like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”, “California Dreamin’” shows the absurd labyrinths created when government systems, meant to protect a population, become increasingly dense due to confusion, greed, and self-preservation.

“12:08 East of Bucharest”

In 2006, “The Treasure” director, Corneliu Porumboiu took on the Romanian Revolution in “12:08 East of Bucharest”. During a Christmas 16 years after the 1989 revolution, thoughts in the city of Vaslui have turned to recent history. Specifically, were they or were they not part of the revolution? The answer hinges on whether or not there were any protests in the city and if so, whether they were properly registered. Building on the Romanian new wave theme of bureaucratic systems and their ability to either recognize or ignore people, places, and events, Porumboiu looks at what it means to join a movement. Did it happen in Vaslui? If it did, can they prove it? And does any of this really matter after the fact?


Fae Giffen is a graduate of San Jose State’s School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves as the Marketing Chair for Fresno Filmworks.